Last year, Ireland’s Zhora crept into the metal scene in Ireland with a brief online-only EP called Feet Nailed To The Ground. It exhibited a band that, while in their infancy, had aggression and exuberance in spades and most importantly, the bit between their teeth; so much so that they just had to be included on CVLT Nation’s top Irish releases of 2012. There was potential here and needless to say, the few months they spent working on this full-length Almaz has paid dividends.
Where Feet Nailed To The Ground was bustling with aggression, its brevity meant that ZhOra felt a little restrained or caged, aching to break free and unleash something lethal. Only the space and freedom provided by an album can provide this opportunity and ZhOra have exploited it fully, unfurling a menacing cocktail of progressive minded sludgy metal.
ZhOra are a band with a penchant for melody and the grandiose while not sacrificing any grit, brutality or heaviness. They’ve sculpted out a heavy piece of work with Almaz that has a great deal of nuances to take in and process. There are a lot of different influences at play and while Mastodon is an easy go-to reference point, there’s a strong scent of their colossal and weighty riffing in here as well as cavernous vocals.
However, ZhOra have done well to create their own identity too and that’s what sets the band apart. There’s vigour and poise dripping from every riff on this album.
‘Ethereal Permanence, Iridescent Energy’ meanders between juddering hails of double bass drums and almost-serene melodic guitars, all balanced perfectly between bellowing vocals. This is a common theme through Almaz – towing the line between crushing metal and gripping climax.
This is no more clear than on the utterly visceral ‘Voynich’ that first initiates with lustrous passages before heaving riffs and a devastating crescendo takes over. Meanwhile, a track like ‘No Gods, No Masters’ is laden with death metal flourishes only to morph into a more melodic beast but never losing any ferocity or composure.
The level of dynamism on display here is more than impressive and while the band has made good use of the album’s space and duration, it’s also done so tastefully. There are many bands of this ilk that can easily lose the run of themselves, releasing bloated records just to hit those 60 and 70 minute marks. Almaz is rich, dense and sprawling but carefully crafted too, ending songs at just the right time and never overstaying their welcome.
In a year littered with stunning albums coming out of Ireland, Altar of Plagues and Mourning Beloveth to name just two, it’s going to be difficult to make a mark but ZhOra have more than done that with Almaz; a definite victory.